Thursday, May 26, 2005

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (5/26/05)


The eyes have it. Those of us who regularly work with computers often suffer from eyestrain. I have found two methods that give relief. The techniques were devised by Dr. William H. Bates, originator of the Bates Method for achieving better eyesight without glasses. They also are described in Aldous Huxley's 1942 book The Art of Seeing, in which he tells of his recovery from near blindness. One method, called "palming," involves stopping work at intervals and closing the eyes, covering them with the cupped palms of both hands. This excludes light and bathes the eyes in blackness, causing passive relaxation. Do not press, rub or massage your eyes.

Concentrating your eyes at the same distance from the monitor screen for long periods can result in eye-muscle fatigue. The second procedure calls for placement of a large calendar or poster on a nearby wall. Looking up at intervals from the monitor screen and focusing your eyes on the letters, words or numerals will stretch tightened eye muscles.

Do you feel a draft? Enlistments in our all-volunteer Army have typically been for three or four years. But faced with a severe and ballooning shortage of recruits, the Army has begun offering 15-month enlistments, the shortest tours on record. After their brief stint of active duty, they would then spend two years in the Army Reserve or National Guard. Experts doubt that short enlistments will solve the recruitment problem. In a high-tech military, 15 months is simply not enough time to learn the complex skills required

The Army probably won't meet recruitment goals this year; Marine Corps enlistments are also in trouble. Interestingly, the Air Force and the Navy, two services not heavily involved in ground combat in Afghanistan or Iraq, are meeting their quotas. Last week, embarrassed by scandals in which recruiters offered to provided fake high school diplomas or signed up recruits with disqualifying medical conditions, the Army called a halt to recruiting for one day to provide ethics training for its recruiters. Ethics training? You can't make this stuff up.

Conflict resolution. The art world was surprised when a children's game was called into play to choose which auction house would get to sell an art collection valued at more than $20 million. Over the years, electronics magnate Takashi Hashiyama acquired an impressive collection of Impressionistic paintings for his corporate collection. So that he could concentrate on Japanese ceramics, he decided to sell his European paintings and solicited proposals from Sotheby's and Christie's, the two big guns among auction houses that have set records with previous sales of Impressionistic art.

Mr. Hashiyama could not decide between their competing proposals, so he asked the two auction houses to settle the matter among themselves. Already smarting from the collusion trial that led to the conviction of Alfred Taubman, chairman of Sotheby's, both houses declined. Hashiyama then arranged for Sotheby's and Christie's to play the Rock, Paper, Scissors game. (The rules are that rock smashes scissors, paper covers rock and scissors cut paper.) Instead of hand gestures, the Japanese representatives of each company were ushered into a conference room and required to write their choice simultaneously.

Christie's won with scissors, which cut Sotheby's paper. It turns out that the winning choice, scissors, was made by the twin 11-year-old daughters of a Christie executive. The sale was held May 4 in New York, smashing records. Far from a simple child's diversion, there's a lot of strategy involved in playing it and even a published strategy guide. In Japan, the game is used extensively to settle business disputes or voting ties. Perhaps we could take a cue from them and settle our political or international stalemates the same way.

Color me angry. I remember William Lindsay Gresham, author of Nightmare Alley and Monster Midway: An Uninhibited Look at the Glittering World of the Carny, at his favorite hangout, the bar of New York's scruffy Hotel Dixie, reciting carnival's three laws: (1) You can't cheat an honest man; (2) Never give a sucker an even break; and (3) Never smarten up a chump. In a story last week largely overlooked by the media, Tom Ridge, former Homeland Security chief, broke carny's third rule. He spilled the beans and smartened up us chumps.

At a Washington forum attended by seven other former heads of departments, Ridge said he wanted to "debunk the myth" that his department was responsible for frequently raising security alerts. He claimed that he often disagreed with administration officials who insisted on raising the threat level to orange, or "high risk" of terrorist attack.
Ridge introduced the goofy color-coded system in 2002 that appeared to have been conceived on Madison Avenue, scaring people without telling them what to do.

"More often than not we [at Homeland Security] were the least inclined to raise it," Ridge told listeners. "Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don't necessarily put the country on [alert].... There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, 'For that?'"

Now it comes out. The carny game he roped 270 million Americans into playing was bogus and rigged. And it wasn't Ridge at all but some unnamed administration officials who pulled our strings for who knows what base motives. Chumps is the proper word to describe us.

Federal Reserve notes. When Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan speaks the world tries to decode the import of his indecipherable mumblings. He obviously doesn't do the grocery shopping for his household--he's married to veteran NBC correspondent and commentator Andrea Mitchell. Otherwise, he would not be so quick to assure us that inflation has been mild and is under control. Financial markets may take comfort from the news that core prices remained steady. But if unconscionable price escalations in food, fuel oil and gasoline, major expenses for most families, aren't inflationary, pray tell me what is.

He has been married twice--each time to a different woman named Mitchell. At the age of 26 in 1952, he married a young artist named Joan Mitchell. After living together for ten months they decided to divorce. On discovering that you could get an annulment faster and cheaper than a divorce, they had their marriage annulled.

At the age of 71, Greenspan concluded more than four decades of bachelorhood by marrying his present wife in 1997. He was then living in the posh Watergate Apartments and moved into her Georgetown house. Ironically, when he sold his bachelor digs in the Watergate, the Fed Chairman actually lost money in the deal.


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